Most parents want their child to grow up feeling self-confident and ready to take on new experiences and challenges, while not falling prey to exploitative situations and people.
Parents worry when it appears their child is demonstrating fear of new challenges, situations or people, and when their child feels “not good enough”. This often leads parents to bring their child to counselling in a sincere effort to improve their “low self-esteem”.
However, I believe the term “self-esteem” is over-used in the popular media and made a general catch-all to explain almost any problem a young person might be having.
Parents are told they must ensure their child’s self-esteem is kept high, so they worry that if they don’t give enough praise, attention, and rewards to their child. Parents may feel they have failed their child if he or she is not projecting the right image as a fit, attractive, high achiever.
In our drive to create the prefect childhood, pundits are claiming that we are raising a generation of narcissists – an alarmist exaggeration, of course.
Self-Esteem vs Self-Efficacy
Many parents, instead, are seeing that despite their reassurances to their child that they love him/her as an individual and are happy with their best effort, their child may, despite all this, be suffering from high stress, depression, anxiety, low motivation, social avoidance, eating disorders and so on. Popular usage attributes these problems to “low-self esteem” … it certainly does indicate low self-confidence in oneself, and low problem-solving ability.
I believe a healthier construct is the term “self-efficacy”. Social psychologist Albert Bandura coined this term to mean the self-belief that one can deal with, and have an effect on, life’s challenges.
Good parenting then, means focussing on this attribute rather than on “self-esteem”. Good parenting helps children learn from an early age that effort reaps rewards, whether learning new skills, or coming up with ideas to solve problems without always relying on parents to “fix” things for them. This type of parenting helps children realise that mistakes and failures are how we learn to improve our skills and abilities.
The “helicopter parent” on the other hand, rushes down to the school to put a stop to any adverse consequences a child might experience if they lose a competition or forget their homework or taunt another child. They tell off the swimming coach if their child doesn’t get a turn coming first (I did not make this up … it happens!).
If their son or daughter loses or breaks a prized possession, they instantly buy them another one.
When their child is unhappy about a friend or a teacher, or about any difficulty causing stress, the over-involved parent takes over, whether or not the problem is actually within the child’s capacity to cope.
It is vital to help children and young people come up with their own ideas about possible solutions to a problem, to think through the consequences of each, choose one to try out, and, if it doesn’t work, try something else.
Children are natural scientists and can experiment to find out what works, and what doesn’t. Supportive parents who can discriminate between when it is time to step in and help, or time to stand back and encourage instead, are teaching valuable life lessons to their children.
Encouraging your Child
These parents encourage their children to take up new opportunities that can increase their competency, but without expecting them to shine at everything. “Do your best” they tell their child – and they mean it.
Asking a child to excel at everything he or she tries, regardless of inherent ability, and insisting they pursue a path or skill they are not innately able to acquire, is a recipe for low self-efficacy.
There needs to be a happy balance between encouragement to meet challenges that, with effort and practice the child can achieve, but accepting that it is not necessary or usual to be good at everything.
Parents and teachers who themselves are modelling confidence that problems can be solved or thought about differently, and who are open to new opportunities or learning new ways, are giving an invaluable gift to the children in their care.
The self-belief (self-efficacy) that one has the capacity and the support to effectively manage the myriad stressors that plague the modern young person … academia, image, cyber-bullying, highly competitive sport, family break-ups … is a powerful weapon to put in a young person’s psychological armoury to wield against stress, anxiety and depression.
Author: Susanne Gilmour, BA, Dip Soc. Science, Grad Dip Psychology.
Susanne Gilmour is a Registered Psychologist with nearly 20 years’ experience working with children, adolescents and their families, in addition to a background in management.
Bookings and Fees: To make an appointment with Susanne Gilmour, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.